Life, Music

The Way It Used to Be


It seems I need to get back into blogging.

Since I don’t watch much TV, I’ve been spending my nights in a fruitless effort to try to learn the Japanese language – and still getting nowhere. At least it feels that way. It’s doubtful I’ll make much progress anymore so it’s on the back burner for now. Disappointing, yes, but you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks, let alone those of a foreign language.

And on top of that, it’s kind of a way to hit the proverbial Reset button. I need to do this as much as I need to meditate, something else I haven’t done in a long time.

At any rate, this old dog spent last Saturday night with his son at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles to see one of his all-time favorite groups, Pet Shop Boys. In all my years of concert-going, this was only the second PSB show I have attended. Technically, it should have been the third but things happen. As expected, it was spectacular.

PSBSuperTour

The good thing about this venue is that like most of my favorite spots in Los Angeles, it’s close to a Metro station and that makes me happy. Rather than spend $20 on parking plus burning all that gas to get there, I spent $7 round-trip for the both of us.

The trip to the Pico Station was pretty uneventful save for the usual hustling from vendors selling food and cell phone accessories. Pretty much expected.

When we arrived at our exit, I saw a couple exit before us and the girl gave me a glance and said, “You going to the Pet Shop Boys concert?”

She had me pegged. It must have been my shirt from their 1991 Performance tour that gave me away.

“Oh yeah, I’ve been waiting a long time,” I told her. She then gave me a rundown of all PSB shows she’s attended then pointed to her boyfriend.

“He hasn’t seen them live yet.” I smiled.

“Oh, you will NOT be disappointed,” I told him as we made our way down the sidewalk. Anthony held the gate for them and they were surprised. Kids don’t do that these days.

We then split up and told them to enjoy the show as they made their way into a corner Mexican restaurant across the street. Anthony and I headed over to the venue.

And wow. Let me explain. In addition to the usual Saturday night crowd, there were also two other events happening: Stan Lee’s Comic-con at the L.A. Convention Center and the League of Legends Championship at Staples Center and outside Microsoft Theater. There were tons of young people there having a great time. Granted I don’t know much about either of those things – remember, Old Dog – but I’d be more inclined to attend the comic-con if I had a choice. There might be a slight chance I’d be able to recognize some of the cosplay outfits based on my limited knowledge of anime. In fact I’m sure I saw a young lady dressed as one of the Sailor characters. There are many and I can only identify Moon. Jupiter, Mars, Venus? Forget it. But one out of…many isn’t bad I guess.

And to their credit, most of them are handmade. Probably not the easiest thing to do.

As we made our way through the crowd, there was a guy pointing out and verbally identifying people by their wardrobe and giving a high-five gesture, then slapping them one if they held out their hand. So many smiles everywhere. Video screens flashing ads and music videos lit up our steps to the venue.

File Oct 31, 10 06 51 PM

Anthony then asked me, “Is this what Japan is like?” Hmm. Shibuya and Harajuku. Osaka’s dotonbori. I looked up and around.

“Yeah, pretty much,” I told him basing my opinion on sheer speculation and not fact. But they do look like places that would have a similar vibe, if not better.

“Okay, we need to go then,” he said with a smile. In time, my man. In time.

The show began a little after 9 pm and as previously stated, it was amazing. A lot of newer stuff mixed with classics like “West End Girls,” “Domino Dancing” and “Always On My Mind.” Then, of course, “It’s A Sin.” That song pretty much changed my life.

We left the venue satisfied, ears ringing, and walked the couple of blocks back to the train station for our ride home. That’s where I saw the couple from earlier that night. I saw the guy and asked, “Well?”

“It was outstanding,” he said with a smile. His girlfriend chimed in and agreed. I then asked which stop was theirs as the train approached. It was only one away from ours so Anthony and I sat next to them for the ride and introduced ourselves.

I discovered that the couple – we’ll call them Jack and Dianne – were big music fans and regular concert-goers. At 31, Jack was the oldest of the two and about 7 years Dianne’s senior. At one point Dianne mentioned that she had seen Depeche Mode a few times and was looking forward to seeing them this time around. I am too, and I told her about the DM shows I have attended.

“Oh, I first saw them in 1987 at The Forum. Music for the Masses Tour. Then I saw them at the Rose Bowl in 1988.”

“Really? And how much was it for that show?”

I replied without hesitation. “$22.50. And for four acts: Wire, Thomas Dolby, OMD, and Depeche Mode.”

Totally stunned. That concert is the stuff of legends. I then told her I was at the Jimmy Kimmel taping in the pit taking lo-res pictures with my old Verizon LG enV flip-phone.

We talked about how incredibly expensive concerts can be now, even for the cheap seats. I agreed then told them they have it easy these days. They didn’t remember a time before the Internet and apps when buying concert tickets was an event in itself.

How did you even get to see any shows back then?

“Two ways to buy them: camp out or call Ticketmaster and 213-480-3232. See? I still remember the phone number. And you had to keep calling if the line was busy and if you finally got through, it was a miracle. This was before the Redial button, you know. But even if you camped outside Music Plus or The Wherehouse, there was no guarantee you’d get them. Scalpers have always been around and they still are.”

And camping out usually meant sparking up conversation with the people around you, especially if the wait was expected to be long. And when it was over, you’d part ways with the knowledge you might just see them at the show. And if you didn’t, hey, you at least had a great chat to kill some time.

Then we went over shows we’ve been to. That lasted a while with me but it turns out that despite me being old enough to be Dianne’s father, we all had similar taste in music. I said the last show we attended was Perfume, a Japanese electro-pop group that rarely tours the U.S.

Not only were ticket prices discussed but physical tickets in general. We used to collect them and put them in scrap books or our wallets as a way of showing our friends we were there. Well, outside of buying a shirt. Now I’m not even sure if you can opt for a physical ticket or have to print them at home (and still get charged even though you’re using your own ink). But I do know that a virtual ticket is indeed pretty cool but nowhere as cool as a stub. And if you don’t screencap it, it’s lost.

IMG_9786

Speaking of Perfume, I told them that as I was waiting for them to tour the U.S., I wanted to find some videos on YouTube of their Japan tour. It was impossible and the reason is simple: I learned that in Japan, it’s not allowed. At all.

So it was only natural that the conversation took yet another turn. I said concerts were so much better in the days before smartphones. Why? Because we were in the moment enjoying the show. We knew we would have stories to tell the next day at school or at work. There seemed to be more of a personal connection between the music and the fan back then, rather than this “look at me” generation that cares more about taking selfies with the stage in the background or posting live videos on Facebook. Seeing a sea of screens in front of me the entire show is pretty annoying because I come from the cigarette-lighter-during-a-ballad generation. And it was waaaaay cooler.

To further prove my point about the disconnect between music and fan today, I told them the story of the mixtape I found and how making one back in the day was such a labor of love. It had to express how we were feeling and being caught up in the creation of it was part of our connection to the music because we knew how hard it was to get this tape just right.

And the act of buying music itself? Totally different. Click-to-buy is nothing like lining up for that new CD on New Music Tuesday.

We had a great chat that made the trip seem so much shorter. When Anthony and I arrived at our stop, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries while they complimented me on Anthony’s politeness at the Pico Station where he held the gate open for them. We both thanked them.

And while I could have given them links to my social media accounts to stay in touch, it only seemed appropriate to end our talk and part ways with these kids like this.

Just like the way it used to be outside Music Plus, waiting for Phil Collins tickets to go on sale.

Advertisements